As I sit here watching the best NBA team thus far in actions — the Golden State Warriors, in case you missed it — I am puzzled by a question my friend posed to me: who is the NBA MVP right now?
Now while we are a little more than a quarter into the NBA season, it was indeed a great question. Most of LeBron’s numbers are down (points, rebounds, shooting percentages and steals), Durant has only played a handful of games and Rose is still a shell of himself. So with the past three MVP award winners not performing up-to-par, who am I left to chose from? Steph Curry is a lightning bolt every night, but to say he is league MVP is sort-of implying he is carrying that roster — possibly the deepest team in basketball. The Brow has been as good as advertised, but his team isn’t doing well enough.
So I landed on this answer: James Harden.
At first I was skeptical of the Harden-MVP buzz, but the more I thought about and looked into it, the more confident I became in my choice. He is leading the league in points, and his increased his rebounds, assists and steals — placing him in historic company. When you are in the company of Michael Jordan and LeBron James you are doing good things.
Not impressed by counting stats alone? Okay. He is also playing defense a significant level, James Harden has been in the Top 10 of individual player DefRtg all season, and overall his assignments on defense are shooting just 41 percent, per NBA.com. Considering that his partner in crime, Dwight Howard, was out for eleven games, and yet Houston has the No. 2 DefRtg in the Association, part of that success must be attributed to Harden. And the best part is these aren’t empty stats — you can see it when you watch the games. Plus, offensively he is a dynamo. He might be the NBA’s premier play-maker. While Harden is on the floor he is assisting on 33 percent of his teammates field goals. His true shooting percentage, which weighs the value of the players shots (three pointers and free throws included) is 57.1 percent, outstanding for a guard. Harden led his team to an 8-3 record over that span without Howard, elevating himself offensively and defensively against some of the best teams in basketball; two of those three losses came against two of the Western Conference’s best teams (Warriors and Clippers). Call it Morey-ball if you’d like, but it’s impossible to imagine Houston playing the way they do — so many 3-balls, foul shots and all at a blistering pace — without Harden at the heart and center of their operations. So there’s my answer. I don’t believe there is a player more valuable to what his team is doing. There is still a lot of ball left to be played, and as the season unfolds, who knows. But I’m not sure Harden’s importance to Houston’s championship goals will change this season. So who is going to snag the award from The Beard? Mitch Lamb (@themitchlamb) is a contributor for The High Screen.